Safe gaming: keeping an eye without becoming a spy
Online games can be a fantastic way for children to utilise their imagination and explore their creativity, and gaming is the activity of choice for many kids these days. But as parents, we know technology can be tricky and we want to make sure we have the tools to protect them.
How can I monitor my child’s gaming activity without feeling like a spy?
Nobody wants to be a helicopter parent, hovering over your child every second of the day, but it can be difficult to relax when it comes to online gaming.
Internet Matters regularly encourage parents to take part in their children’s gaming experience as a way of engaging with what children are up to and creating trust and constructive conversations.
Safe gaming for kids: conversation is key
Andy Robertson, gaming expert at Internet Matters, says: “While parents have concerns about in-app purchases, violence and screen time, the good news is that all modern consoles provide simple ways to control these things. This creates a good context to talk to your children about games, and get a better understanding of their hobby. Playing games together is a great way to start this conversation."
David Emm, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, explains that parents tend to take either direct action when it comes to monitoring their child’s online activity (control and check) or indirect action (discussion and advice on the dangers of the internet).
"Transparency is essential to ensure children are kept safe from cyberthreats. Encouraging your child to be open about what they are doing online and who they are socialising with is essential so that you can help educate them on cyber-risks," David explains.
David adds that for this kind of dialogue to be effective, it should start at a very young age – once a child starts to explore technology and the online world.
How to open a conversation about your child's gaming activity
Elizabeth Milovidov, Ph.D., J.D., is an eSafety consultant in Europe, an Independent Expert on Digital Parenting and the founder of DigitalParentingCoach.com. She suggests monitoring what children are doing by asking simple questions such as "How was your day?" and "How was your online day?"
She also recommends using the WWW method created by the ParentZone to start a conversation.
- What are you doing online? (What activities do you like?)
- Where are you going online? (What websites, what apps?)
- Who are you talking to online? (Friends? Multi-player chat session with strangers?)
- When are you going online? (With the babysitter, grandparents, on playdates?)
You can do a little research into your kid’s favourite games; learn about the characters and stories and show a real interest and your child will feel more comfortable having conversations around gaming.
Try to familarise yourself with gaming-speak and online language so you can recognise what your child is saying and what others are saying to them. This can help prevent cyberbullying (and also gain you some extra parent points with your child!).
Learning the language of gamers
Co-op: a mode of multiplayer where everyone is on the same side
Ditch: abandon a game
Easter Egg: a hidden feature in a game that can sometimes be 'unlocked' for extra tasks
Floaty: loose controls or a 'lag' between scenes / the movement of a character on screen
Lag: slow response in the game cause by technical issue
HP: this can stand for hit points, health points or heart points depending on the game
Platform games/Platformer: a game that involves a character jumping between different platforms
PvE: player versus environment. The player is playing against the game or AI such as a big boss or completing a mission.
PvP: player versus player. Players play against each other either in battle or some kind of mission.
Boss: the main bad guy that needs to be defeated in the game. There can be several bosses in one game.
Glitch: a technical bug in the game when what is supposed to happen doesn't happen, i.e getting stuck in one place.
AFK: means 'away from the keyboard', which usually implies taking some time away from the game
GLHF: means 'good luck have fun'
IGN: this means 'in game name' and refers to the name of your avatar or character
How can I use parental controls to protect my kids when they’re gaming?
Parental controls can be very helpful and there is plenty of guidance on how to set these controls up for different devices. Most devices require you to sign in to your account and select a family management option within settings. You can usually decide what limitations you require and how much activity you want to monitor.
However, Elizabeth explains that even with controls, young children with access to smartphones and tablets may still see inappropriate content.
“Even if your child's smartphone is locked down, you cannot prevent your child from seeing inappropriate content on the school bus or on a playdate. A parent's best line of defense and indeed support is to keep the lines of communication open and really listen to what your children are saying."
"Continued conversation and teaching moments are effective tools in the digital parent's toolbox,” says Elizabeth. Read our parents' guide to safe gaming for primary-school children for more advice and expert tips.
How can I stop my children spending my money on games?
Most of us have our card details saved on our devices, and sometimes even on our child’s devices. Unfortunately, it can be far too easy for an accidental (or purposeful) click to happen and before you know it you’ve paid for another game accessory or character, or even another game itself!
David Emm explains that app developers use clever tactics to make the purchase of add-ons effortlessly accessible – and virtually unnoticeable.
"It’s important for parents to make sure that certain functions on their tablet or smartphone are controlled, to help limit in-app purchases. For example, restricting in-app purchases with a password / PIN, using parental controls and removing payment cards from an account, are all useful preventative measures," David says.
For instance, on an Xbox One you can:
- go to settings
- scroll to account and then sign-in
- select ‘change my sign-in and security settings’
- customise your options and make sure that a passkey is required to make purchases
You can do a similar thing with iPhones to prevent in-app purchases, and for Playstation 4 you can also set a spending limit. On Android, you can use Google Playstore to adjust settings and change the settings so that a pin is required for purchases.
Popular gaming platfroms such as Roblox can be tricky because, as well as having a social media side to it, there is also a spending aspect so it's important to famiiarise yourself with saftey features and parental controls.
Fortunately, plenty of games don’t require an internet connection such as Jetpack Joyride or Angry Birds, and it may be simpler to just put the device into aeroplane mode while your children are playing. Aeroplane mode turns off the data connection on your phone and is represented by a small aeroplane icon in the settings menu or in the top bar menu on your phone. This is a simple way to ensure your child doesn't spend money or access any innapropriate content.